The UK brand Marks & Spencer’s Blue Thinking was ignited by a small management team group who embraced environmental issues because they were exposed to global realities through their work with WWF in the UK. This small team very quickly put together “Plan A, because there’s no Plan B” and presented this powerful message to the world. Plan A is a business strategy that is building a company ready for a sustainable future. It’s a visible and demanding strategic plan; and it has put the not so long ago failing British institutional brand back on the map. The brand and its visible plan is engaging its stakeholders, including customers, in the transformational process. One year in, their ‘100 Point Plan’ to transform the business and supply chain is in full force (they are at about point 20).
Another common and important attribute of emergent Blue Thinking is its strong connection to brand strategy. ‘Blue Thinkers’ dig deep into the heart of the organization, their current role and position in the world, and their core competency and human capital, to strategically shape and define their intent and role in a sustainable world and align it with the core of their brand. It’s a brand strategy exercise with a transformational output and action plan, not just a brand engagement manifesto.
IBM’s recent communication and intent around “Smarter Planet” is an example here. IBM has identified its need to focus on global systems and infrastructure innovation to support sustainable transformation. Why? Because IBM is the leading infrastructure and systems innovator; it has the depth of research and knowledge across multiple industries to tackle some of the toughest world problems. Citing “… you don’t have to look far to see, for example, that only 30 percent of the potential electricity that is available at the energy source actually reaches the doorstep of the consumer. Or, that significant amounts of traffic congestion are caused by people circling, looking for empty parking spaces, wasting fuel” – John Kennedy, VP of Integrated Marketing Communications, highlights examples where IBM can clearly improve systems. IBM have looked at the world with a systematic lens, looked at the heart of their business, and married the two with strategic purpose. IBM’s purpose is now to make global infrastructure smarter within the frame of our planetary, social and economic challenges. Now could not be a more relevant time to be tackling systems-level challenges.
Understanding consumers, markets, leaders, and corporations, all of us are at the very beginning of economic and social transformation to a sustainable world. Blue Thinkers know they need to engage and bring their stakeholders with them in the process – their employees, customers and the communities they touch. IBM has started to ‘talk’ or communicate to their corporate customers but also individuals, states, governments, NGOs, through what they are describing as “Op-Ed” advertising – or educational advertising. Traditionally IBM only spoke to large enterprises. Today their purpose is to get all stakeholders seeing the systems challenges (and then presumable engaging IBM in the change and infrastructure).
Most brands are at the beginning of a long journey. All understand that Blue Thinking in this broken down economy is significant because business is forced to reflect on current practices and re-engineer to fit with market change. It’s a platform for intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs- change agents within supertanker companies driving change from within the organization and grass root innovators.